D Space: Seoul’s Hidden Art Movement
Stripes Korea | .
published: June 22, 2016
Beside the Han River, across from the UN Village, neatly tucked away in a small, enshrouded alley in the middle of Hannam-dong, lies Project D Space. The small art gallery is veiled by an opaque glass door under a sign for a pool hall. Its appearance is so nondescript and commonplace that on most days you can find young art-goers, phones in hand, eagerly probing the adjacent alleys in search of the entrance.
What makes the gallery so unique, for both artist and viewer, is the space itself. Originally acquired by the much larger Daelim Museum, D Space was once a pool hall frequented by Dankook University students. According to the gallery’s head curator Soyeon Bang, “It became abandoned when the university moved away.”
“During that time, Daelim Museum was looking for a new gallery space,” said Bang. “And D Project Space was able to open its doors in November, 2012.”
Since its opening, the museum has been home to 26 teams of creators and artists for a total of 27 shows.
Unlike the larger, more popular sister venues of Daelim and D Museum, D Space is committed to introducing not only newer and more experimental artists, but Korean artists too.
“We wanted a space to introduce new and upcoming Korean artists,” Bang said. “Daerim and D Museum show international projects. They’re more popular and well known, so they can get bigger names. But we wanted something for new artists, new producers, and new talent within the Korean art community to gain exposure.”
Although D Space is a smaller venue, housing smaller names and fewer viewers, its clandestine qualities do have their upsides. In a revealing admission that perhaps says something about the prevailing direction of the art community in Seoul, Bang stated that one of the venue’s benefits was its non-commercial approach.
“Daerim and D Museum have received criticism by the art community,” Bang said, “for being too popular, too conventional. Yes, they receive larger crowds and introduce art to young and new audiences—which is a good thing. But people also want something new and original. D Space is a way to compensate for those negatives.”
The current exhibit, NAM Hyunbum: Look Good, however, is an exception to the “alternative” rule at D Space. Although of Korean descent, Nam Hyunbum is very well known in the international photography community. His work has appeared in Vogue, Elle, and Grazia, as well as a number of fashion department stores around the globe. Introduced by D Space as Korea’s first street fashion photographer, Nam has also been part of a cable television program and is the author of at least two photography books.
Most artists have to enter a competition to get involved with the gallery. According to Nam, “The exhibition was never planned.”
“They had an opening and the curator contacted me and asked if I wanted to do something with them. I liked the work here and agreed. It was mostly random.”
Despite his experience with a number of mediums in photography, this is Nam’s first gallery exhibition.
“The most difficult aspect was the idea from the space,” he said. “It’s not a simple gallery. We, the curator and the team, had to consider the specific character and history of the venue.”
Indeed, D Space makes a priority of incorporating its roots into almost every aspect of its exhibits. The remodeled billiards sign on the outside merely touches the surface of how far the venue pushes this concept. The interior, although mostly empty, furnishes one pool table, a glass case concealing a few pool sticks, and a wooden billiard scoreboard.
“The billiard table is an object that represents the identity and history of the space,” said Bang. “It’s an evolving space along with the Hannam area as a new artistic and cultural district. Although we don’t mandate our artists to use the billiard table, they mostly really enjoy working with it.”
Nam and the team weren’t timid when interacting with the gallery’s props. The pool table, enveloped by a plate of glass, enclosed the entire exhibit’s archives of film and photographs.
“We saw the table, the archives, and the billiard balls, and just put them all together. It seemed like a natural thing to do.” Nam said. “Going along with the idea of history colliding with the present, I went out to different markets and bought about seventy different vintage frames for the photos. I was happy when they turned out well, but it took a lot of work and preparation.”
Aside from the greater themes of history, community, and the evolving present, the venue attempts, and succeeds, in creating a number of layers through its presentation of the work. Photos make their appearances on the walls, attached to the ceiling, and tilted between elevated platforms in the corners of the room. More photos find themselves clumsily stacked in the middle of the gallery beside a small, Bernini-turned-flower-vase glass bottle. There’s even a small room projecting a slide-show in two-fold fashion; one from the vantage point of a small opening protruding from the room’s side, and another from within the actual room, housing both real photos and the digital images on its walls.
The revolving textures, greater themes, and insidiously simple demeanor of the venue culminate in an ultimately refreshing and whimsical experience. It may be worth going just to say you actually found the place, but there’s more than enough substance on the inside to make the trip a priority.
Along with free entrance to the venue, D Space also holds free talks with the curator on select Thursdays and artist talks on select Saturdays. Additionally, there are internship opportunities that are accessible on the gallery’s website.
Future programs include graphic design publication Corners, photographers AMQ, and boat designers YCRAFTBOATS. Exhibits for 2016 will run through until the end of December.